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Students send holiday greetings from afar

The holidays stir up visions of presents and twinkly decorations, but there are some who won't experience the seasonal cheer because they're scattered around the globe, serving our country. And while they may get care packages from loved ones or community groups, there is one Christmas tradition that means the most: getting a personal Christmas card.

Anthony Chirico, a guidance counselor at O'Rourke Middle School, discovered the servicemen's simple wish and for 17 years, has been making it come true with the Military Mailbag project.

"It's expanded from the middle school to the high school, as well as all the elementary schools," said Chirico.

Chirico has hundreds of recycled Christmas cards just waiting to be filled out, but he needs names and addresses to send them to. He asks the school and greater Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake community to send him names of soldiers who could use a friendly message from home.

"I have at least 30 now and we just sent 100 cards with local national guard and air force stationed at Stratton Air Base, who just left for Antartica, so they'll be hand delivered to someone there," said Chirico.

When students fill out a card to send to a stranger, it's not just a generic "Happy Holidays" greeting.

"When you read the letters you see that they feel a sense of patriotism and glow with character and pride in the fact that others are serving their country," said Chirico.

And the personal connection forged miles apart is felt and appreciated by the letters' recipients, said Chirico, recalling a moment he finds hard to forget.

"One year I had a recruiter at the high school for the army and with him was a recruiter in training. When realized he was in BH-BL school district, he took out of his wallet a folded up card; it was wrinkled, tattered, and he read it to me. I recognized the student's name, who at that time went from grade nine to grade 12 and was still in the building," said Chiricco. "I brought him to her classroom where he thanked her and said, 'That was the only card or gift or any communication I received on Christmas Day.' Those types of things make it special."

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